Although many issues on the congressional agenda seem to be perennial, new issues do emerge. Sometimes a crisis or visible event prompts Congress to act; at other times, congressional champions of particular proposals are able to win powerful supporters for their ideas. Congressional leaders and committee chairpersons also have the power to place items on the congressional agenda, and they often do so in response to interest groups.
The Dance of Legislation
Bills become laws by a process that is simple in its outline. A bill may be introduced in either house. It is then assigned to a specialized committee, which may refer it to a subcommittee for closer study and modification. When the subcommittee has completed its work, it may send the proposal back to the full committee, which may then approve it and report it out to the chamber for debate, amendment, or a vote on passage. Actual floor procedures in the two houses differ substantially. In the House, the Rules Committee specifies the form of debate. In contrast, the Senate works within a tradition of unlimited debate and unanimous consent petitions. If a bill passes the two houses in different versions, the differences must be reconciled in a conference committee, and the bill must then be passed in its new form by each house. Once the bill has passed Congress, it is sent to the president for his signature, veto, or pocket veto. The pocket veto can be used only when Congress adjourns. Congress approved a line-item veto that allowed the president to invalidate particular sections of bills, but the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional.